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The Home of the “Car Beautiful”

June 25, 2012

By Susan Monahan:

inland_auto 300x200It is not often that we get to see history being revealed day by day, but that’s just what’s happening at the corner of Spokane and Alder streets. The building that had been the location of Walla Walla Upholstery for many years is being stripped of its facade, and lets us glimpse the original brick front of the building of 1908, the Inland Auto Company.

The Inland Auto Company was where you could buy a Franklin. Not many of us have heard of a Franklin, a luxury car with an air-cooled engine, full-elliptic springs and a laminated wood chassis frame. The Franklin, produced in Syracuse, New York, was known as The Car Beautiful. Perhaps you are thinking that 1908 seems early for there to be a significant market for autos in Walla Walla. The February 1908 issue of Up to the Times magazine claimed that “Automobiling is becoming more and more popular in the Walla Walla Valley. At present there are about 60 autos in the city alone.” By 1909 Inland Auto Company was renamed Walla Walla Franklin Motor Company and their showrooms at “Number One, Auto Row,” featured attractive displays and a “very fine line of Franklin cars.” Thanks to Joe Drazan’s collection we have a 1909 photo of the “fine garage” of the Inland Auto Company. Who were the gentlemen photographed standing in the building’s doorway? Possibly the manager, Eory Corkrum, William Waldron, one of the several “machinists,” Harry Bathainny, the bookkeeper, or Charles Scott, a “vulcaniser.”

If you were shopping for an auto in 1910, you had choices other than a Franklin. You could purchase a White Motor Car at MacBride’s. Arthur Lutz on Palouse Street could sell you a Reo, and John Smith, dealer of “High Grade Buggies and Carriages” carried Studebakers. However, Up to the Times reported in a 1910 issue that “a list of the number of motor cars for which licenses are now in force in the state of Washington, shows that the Franklin air-cooled automobile heads the column with a total of 322.” Isabella Kirkman, widow of William, purchased a Franklin for her family in 1912.

The Franklin Motor Car Corporation did not survive the Depression. Sales declined nationwide and they eventually declared bankruptcy in 1935. Walla Walla’s Franklin Motor Company sold its last Franklins in 1922. Their building retained its identity as an auto dealer, though, for the next twenty years. In the 1920s and 30s Mosley Wholesale Sales, Monnett Motor Company (Cadillac and Hupmobile), and Ruley Motor Company (Hudson and Essex) all had dealerships there. The last auto dealer was Kerr Motor Company; Kerr sold Buicks and Pontiacs and left in 1941. Kentworthy’s Battery and Electric was the next occupant and it was followed by Myers Electric and Radio. Myers was in the building for over twenty years and during their tenure evolved from “Electric and Radio” to “Radio and TV.”

Most Walla Walla citizens remember upholstery businesses operating there from the 60s until recently. Goodwill next door has plans to expand into the Inland Auto Company space and is responsible for the remodeling going on now. A gentleman who owned the building for many years said that the original Inland Auto Company sign was still faintly visible on the back wall of the building. I stood in the alley and looked long and hard. Finally I was able to discern the ghost of just one word: AUTO. It is gratifying that the old building retains a little of the sign that represents its historical importance as the place where early Walla Walla citizens could, for many years, purchase a Franklin, The Car Beautiful.

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